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Unaware


I didn't really know "Marlene" all that well, we shared a couple classes at our small-town high school and both worked as candystriper volunteers at the local hospital.  Although raised in a middle-class family, my friends and acquaintances tended to come from blue-collar families. I related to life in their homes better than I did to my own, where things were so concerned with maintaining image and keeping up with the Joneses.

I remember the Saturday afternoon clearly, a call from Marlene telling me thru tears that she had ingested a large quantity of aspirin and was now afraid, and having second thoughts about her intention to die. I had no idea until then how bad things were for her.  She'd been walking around school with her arm and shoulder in a cast for months, the result of an injury sustained while struggling with an old clothes washer, or so she'd said.  People didn't talk about other, darker realities back then. If there were secrets in the house, they kept them to themselves... until the day she reached out to me.

Turning to my mom for help, I got the usual admonition... "don't get involved, call the authorities".  Thanks for understanding mom.... not.  Instead I called my mentor/friend, the school nurse who also served as the coordinator for the candystriper program.  Telling her what was happening with Marlene, who lived several miles out in the country, she jumped quickly in her car and headed that way while alerting the hospital of the emergency situation. 

Marlene was brought to the hospital is serious condition, her body fighting to function despite the deadly does of aspirin.  After she got thru the initial 24-hour period and her body began to stabilize, they let me in to see her.  I brought her a pretty nightgown and soft robe, things she'd probably never had before.  She wouldn't say exactly what had happened, to me or to the doctors, but she told me she  wasn't going back there, back to where her step-father ruled the family with a angry hand. There was more, I knew it as well as she did, but it didn't matter.  Her sense of shame and humiliation was too great to tell anyone how it really was. 

My father was most unhappy that I somehow found myself a part of this, with rumor and gossip swirling in the school and small town.  Everyone wanted to know what I knew about the situation... had she really tried to kill herself, and why?   "Don't get involved" he admonished as I railed against  our community's lack of compassion and understanding.  "This is a bad situation and we don't need any part of it."

 "Don't get involved" was my father's mantra, "don't get involved, you might get hurt."  I understand that in his own way he was trying to protect us, to shield us from the harsh realities of life, but I saw it then, and still now, as a reluctance to take a public stand against things that were wrong. In some ways that shaped my determination to be different, to be one who was willing to speak out.

Back then things such as mental health units or in-patient counseling didn't exist in our community.  A few days in the hospital and Marlene was released to the care of Social Services, who placed her with a single teacher for awhile. From there she bounced to living with a mom and kids in a small apartment, the only person they could find that was willing to take her in, and then to another home.  She kept to herself when she returned to school, but seemed to be ok.  She graduated high school and eventually became a full time nurse's aide working at the same hospital in our town.  We didn't stay in touch after high school but I think of her now and then, and wonder if she is happy and how her life has played out.

Several years later, while visiting with my Dad on the phone, he mentioned that Marlene's step-father had died.  Then he said something that took me totally by surprise, something I'd never heard him say before... "That son-of-a-bitch deserved to die, abusing those girls like that."

He knew!  He had known all along, and if he knew, then his friends who were also members of the business community knew.  And yet all those years ago no one said anything, no one spoke out, no one reached out to help, no justice was handed down.  Yes, he deserved to die, and I  hope it was slow, painful death.  May God have mercy on his soul.

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This post is linked up at Two Shoes Tuesday
where the prompt this week is "aware"
TWO SHOES TUESDAY

16 comments:

  1. Turning a blind eye is almost as bad a committing the crime itself. How much does it cost to care for someone in need? How many perpetrators still escape justice because we don't want to be involved? This is a great story Josie, I just wish it wasn't so true.

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    1. I agree Oldegg, if we are not part of the solution we ARE part of the problem! I wish stories like this were never true, sadly they are much too common.

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  2. No god I'd believe in would offer mercy, he is as deserving of mercy as he was deserving of death.

    I don't understand the "stay out of it" mindset. I have no tolerance for violence against children. I hope the bastard suffered before heading off to hell.

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    1. Like you, Monkey, I have zero tolerance for abuse of the weak and innocent. I wish that such criminals had to endure the same level of suffering they have inflicted, with scars that last a lifetime.

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  3. I am happy that my mother had no such ideas of keeping silent. Hope I carry that torch !

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    1. Good for you Nimue! Your mother taught you well! :-)

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  4. this was such a common occurence back then and NO body wanted to step in and help. Although we have come a long way since then, the stigma of all of this still clings to the soul!

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    1. That is how it was back then Brenda, yet it troubled me greatly that the leaders of our small community turned their backs on this young girl rather than get involved. I'm sure that the lives of her mother and siblings were no better, they were at the mercy of this sick tyrant, and resources were few and far between. We have come a long way, but there are still generations of adults of who have been crippled by such nighmares when they were growing up, and we know it still happens and goes unreported today.

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  5. I don't think there is a god in hell and besides it doesn't sound like he has a soul to save.
    I can understand where people who say "stay out of it" come from, I have heard it from my parents and in some cases "some" it's good advice but this is not one of them.
    WE can't sit back and watch something like this without helping and expect to get help when we need it
    I am one of those who doesn't care about any repercussions and i have paid for my putting my nose in someone elses business but it's what i do.
    A little help to a victim will empower them to stand up when they are alone facing their tormentor the next time.
    Not helping only makes the garbage of the world look right and the victims wrong

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    1. You hit the nail on the head exactly, Walker, if we look away, the victim only feels the personal guilt and blame more intensely and also so very hopeless about their situation. That is why suicide so often becomes the option they turn to. To my way of thinking the men of my community should have put the fear of God into Mr. Abuser, instead they pretended not to know.

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  6. I was brought up with much the same attitude, but somehow...it skipped me. I have taught my daughter that to see a wrong and not try to right it is just as bad as doing it yourself. Not to pat myself on the back....but I think it is a better way to live.

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    1. It is a MUCH better way to live, Maria! Your daughter is blessed to have a mother that shows herby example to have the courage of her convictions. If we all remain silent, who will stand up for us, or for our children?

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  7. It's a sad story... but there is no simple solution. Usually it's the community that helps to deal with such a situation. Certainly, not the place of children to interfere. And when we call the police in, they don't always know how to handle it, and sometimes make the situation still worse. Good that girl found help through the social services.

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    1. It is true Shimon, that such problems are deeply complicated. In those years it was thought that family problems should be left to the family to resolve, sadly that usually ended up in the problem being covered up rather than addressed, and innocent children grew up believing that somehow they were the ones to blame for what had happened. I am grateful she was able to get some help and in the end decided that living was better than dying so young.

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